Letter to my gay friend

Dear Joe

In the light of some recent exchanges and happenings, I am writing to clarify my position without wanting to score points, patronise etc. and hopefully help set your mind at rest, although you may not entirely agree, but I hope you can bear with me. The first thing is whatever your sexuality, you are my friend. To misquote Martin Luther King, if I were to judge you (which is not my intention) it will be on the content of your character (where you score highly) and not your sexual orientation. As a libertarian, whether one is gay or not doesn’t particularly bother me; whether one respects others and does no harm to them is what matters. I am a Christian with a traditional outlook, holding conservative views, including to do with same sex relationships, which I will get to. Notwithstanding, as I see it, I still need to be more loving and less judging. We are all sinners and I see nothing in my Bible that says homosexual sin is any worse than heterosexual sin but if we do sin we ought to repent. Saying that can bring one into conflict with the prevailing culture that often cares little about these things and condemns them who do.

Growing up in the 1950’s and 60’s, homosexuality was hardly spoken off and if it was it was usually done disparagingly. It seemed that Christians led the way in condemning homosexuality, and many gay folk suffered societal disapproval and worse. But early on, when I started university, I discovered not all Christians felt the same. To my shock, the university chaplain had a pretty free and easy approach to sex and that included gay sex. His main caveat was it needed to be part of a loving relationship. He later became a leading activist in helping change attitudes in the Anglican church toward homosexuality and, while I disagreed with him, I couldn’t deny the fact he did a lot to help the homeless and also HIV/AIDS victims. During my early adult life I did not give LBGT matters much thought and generally went along with my early indoctrination that gay was NOT ok, although as far as I can recollect, if I did meet gay folk, their sexuality was not something I held against them.

I got to think about the matter a lot more when I became a community activist at the turn of the millennium. While the churches I attended were not particularly gay friendly and gay people did not get much involved (partly, I fear, because they felt they would not be welcome), I found it became an issue in my community work, especially when as often happened the issue of Christian rights (being able to practice their beliefs) came into conflict with LBGT rights. In my voyage of discovery, and I did a lot of reading and listening, I learned a lot about the gay perspective, and it was a real eye opener. I also got in trouble with some Christians who saw me as betraying what they saw as the truth and some gay folk who, despite me vehemently denying it, still saw me as homophobic because I disapproved of gay sex. It is not my intention to go over these points other than refer you to two books I wrote setting out many of the issues as I see them: “The Gay Conundrum” and “Sexual orientation and sexual identity”.

In the past 10-20 years there has been enormous changes in the way the public in general look on gay folk (becoming more sympathetic) and in the advance of LBGT rights (notably legalizing equal marriage). There has also been enormous changes in church attitude and this was particularly brought home to me at the Pride event that took place in my home town, when five ministers who I know and respect, and unbeknown to me, were actively supporting the event. It has also been an issue in many churches looking to be more diverse and be seen as friendly toward LBGT folk. While some of those in churches of the more conservative ilk feel these other churches have unnecessarily compromised, all churches whatever their flavour have a duty of care to those they serve, and redress the sins of the past when LBGT folk have been discriminated against.

All the time, I have had to think of my position, although the church I belong to would probably take the view that while it wanted to be welcoming to gay folk it would regard being in a same sex relationship as NOT ok. I have generally sought to balance my less sympathetic gay related news feed by reading Pink News. To my knowledge, at least in the four years I have attended the church, it has not had to deal with the pastoral implications of members of its congregation being in a same sex relationship, particularly if they were to become more actively involved in the church. While I think of it, the matter of divorce and remarriage has hardly risen and nor has that of cohabiting unmarried couples. I agree with you, it would seem rather hypocritical if homosexuality is condemned but divorcees who remarry and unmarried cohabiters are given a free pass. As for church discipline and member code of conduct, it does matter (check out Paul’s letters to the Corinthians) and, while it has often been addressed in wrong and insensitive ways, it is not enough to turn a blind eye in order to be seen as tolerant. I agree though, churches do need to decide if this applies to same sex relationships.

I come from a background that did not go much for officially ordained ministers since all believers were deemed as ministers. This might have let me off the hook when it came to deciding how the church ought to come to terms with the subject of homosexuality and LBGT rights. But as a Bible student and church leader I knew that would be a cop out, for much is at stake, not least believing the truth, guiding the flock and acting as God would want (not always an easy call). While I don’t claim to have the last word, I am obliged to understand. Part of my theologizing is I am now of the view the Bible does not say much about homosexuality, compared say with blessing the poor, and that will surprise some. But what it does say is important if I claim what matters most is NOT going along with the surrounding culture and bowing to pressure to conform (as too often happens), since doing the will of God in all matters is what truly matters, even if we have to suffer the consequences as a result.

 As I reflected on texts like the gay abomination one in Leviticus and the Sodom and Gomorah story in Genesis, I realized these could be interpreted differently to what I had been brought up to believe. After all, there are many things God regards as an abomination which we don’t even reckon on and as for Sodom, one of its main wickedness was how badly it treated the poor. Going through gay friendly commentators on the other gay texts leads me to believe that while the Bible if anything does condemn homosexual activity it is not as scathing as I once thought. I suppose the key text for me is “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” Genesis 2:24, which provides the only context for sexual intimacy: i.e. in the lifelong relationship (marriage) between a man and a woman. But even then it begs the question of why in the Law recognition was given to men who marry more than one wife (consider Jacob and David) and what happens should a married couple divorce.

This all begs the question of how we (in the church) ought to deal with gay people (assuming, of course, the belief that being gay is not God’s will). I do not believe in either extreme: anything goes or nothing goes when it comes to same sex relationships. Too often churches fail to get the right balance. As for friendship or common courtesy or when it comes to business dealings etc., it should be no different to that of straight people and the church has a lot to answer for concerning past homophobic attitudes. But let’s cut to the chase: is gay sex ok? Given my Bible understanding, there is nothing to lead me to conclude it is (while I follow the Bible I did not write it). One may ask how to deal with gay folk from a pastoral perspective. To say it is ok to be gay as long as you are celibate seems an unsatisfactory answer but it goes back again to only endorsing what God endorses and resisting societal pressure to do otherwise.

I recognize there are some fantastic gay Christians who love the Lord and, as I say, it is not my place to judge but rather I need to love, although part of that is speaking the Word of the Lord. Without ruling out the need to rebuke and warn, empowering and encouraging is maybe more important. The pastoral implications are significant e.g. standing with and for gay folk when they are wronged, in some becoming a full church members including positions of leadership and how best to counsel and I am yet to be fully tested on the matter. One thing I am clear on though is the issue of handling same sex relationships is not one churches can escape from. Because some churches, and that number is growing all the time, adopt the path of least resistance by going along with the societal flow, that is a position that often dishonours the Lord.

I should add that whether being gay is a matter of nature or nurture is an ongoing debate and one concerning which I haven’t reached firm conclusions. However, I concur with the ancients of the church who held to the doctrine of original sin and it is something that affects us all and relates to all aspects of human experience. My point is that while we are all sinners, God does not wish us to remain sinners and through the gospel (which I discuss here) we are made positionally righteous and can and must live actually righteous.

I suspect my middle of the road approach may result in my being knocked down by traffic coming from either direction, and it has, and I recognise mine is not the final word (that prerogative is with God) but my position is as a result of much prayer and study and not a little heart searching and learning the hard way. As for my priorities, LBGT happen to be low on my list; preaching the gospel and loving God and my neighbour are, however, high on my list.

May God bless you,

John

Note: Joe is a name made up but I do have more than one gay friend for who much of this applies.

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